Flora Poste, a recently orphaned young woman, nineteen years old. She is left with an endowment of one hundred pounds a year. Because her expensive education has not prepared her to earn a living, she decides to leave London and stay with relatives until she finds someone she chooses to marry. She stays with the Starkadders, an aunt and various cousins who reside at Cold Comfort Farm in Howling, Sussex. Her relatives and the farmhands are a rude, filthy, and quarrelsome bunch; the farmhouse is deteriorating, and the livestock are neglected. Flora hears there is a mysterious curse on the farm that keeps the Starkadders in squalor and emotional turmoil, and she decides to tidy up her relatives’ lives. With unfailing good manners, plentiful help from her London friends, hard work, and her book of common sense, Flora manages to achieve her goal and her heart’s desire.
Ada Doom Starkadder
Ada Doom Starkadder, the sister of Flora’s deceased mother and acknowledged head of the Starkadder family. She lives in one of the farmhouse’s upper rooms, which she rarely leaves, and controls the entire family with threats of having an “attack” if any member leaves the farm. As a child, Ada saw “something nasty in the woodshed” and has convinced the others that she never recovered from the shock. Her madness takes the form of demanding to know everything that goes on, and she has an attack unless she goes over the farm’s books twice a week. Her attacks escalate when the family members start to leave, one by one, but Flora convinces Aunt Ada to give up her miserable life and seek happiness.
Judith Starkadder, Flora’s cousin. She is married to Amos Starkadder, and they have a son, Seth, on whom she dotes, although he is rude and indifferent to her. Two hundred photos of Seth decorate her room, where she spends most of her time weeping and moping. When he leaves, she drapes all the photos in black. She is remarkably indifferent to her other two children, Reuben and Elfine. She has abandoned all hope of happiness and takes a fatalistic view of life, but she gives herself up to the care of a psychiatrist, and her prognosis is good.
Amos Starkadder, Judith’s husband, a deeply religious man filled with the spirit of hellfire and damnation. He finds fulfillment in preaching twice a week at the Church of the Quivering Brethren. Flora suggests that he might serve the Lord even better by traveling around the country to preach. Although Amos suffers from the same curse as the rest of his family and thinks he cannot leave the farm, the idea grows on him. He finally defies Ada and sets out on his mission. When last heard from, he has had such success in London that he is setting out for America to spread the word.
Seth Starkadder, a handsome, virile, and libidinous man. Incapable of seeing any woman as anything but a sex object, he has fathered the hired girl’s four children as well as many others. He considers Flora as simply another female, but she sees him as another problem to be solved. Tied to the farm by the family curse, his great passion is the “talkies” that he sneaks off to see in the nearby town. When Flora introduces him to a producer friend from Hollywood, the producer immediately recognizes Seth’s magnetism and offers to put him in films. Seth is last seen on the silver screen about a year later, starring in Small Town Sheik.
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Reuben Starkadder, the only true farmer in the family. He loves farming and has a sensuous, almost lecherous feeling for the land. He is suspicious that Flora is trying to wrest ownership of the farm from the family. Although Reuben wants desperately to inherit the farm from his father, Amos believes Reuben is eager for his death and threatens to leave the place to Adam Lambsbreath, the hired hand. When Flora convinces him she has no interest in the farm, Reuben becomes her ally and eventually proposes to her, but she suggests someone more suitable. After Amos finds his true vocation of preaching worldwide, he finally leaves the farm to Reuben.